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Lions-Giants report card: Coaching decisions sink Detroit

The Lions didn’t play well on Sunday, but they were hurt by some questionable decision making from their superiors.

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Detroit Lions v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions dropped a key game to the New York Giants and it was their first loss by more than a possession. Though the final score doesn’t quite indicate how close the game truly was, the Lions’ performance doesn’t really inspire much confidence, either, especially considering this was the Lions’ first game against one of the top NFC contenders. Let’s take a look at some individual performances.

Quarterback: B

For all of the hand-wringing during the week over Matthew Stafford and gloves—for which I take partial responsibility for causing—the Lions quarterback looked like his normal self against the Giants. The final stat line—24 for 39, 273 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT—doesn’t look all that inspiring, but Stafford did just about all he could. He was constantly on the run, but had no problem gunning the ball deep and didn’t have any issue with short-yardage accuracy.

At times, though, I felt he was a little panicky in the pocket, and he wasn’t able to come up with any plays in the fourth quarter to give the Lions a shot at a true comeback.

Running backs: F

There just isn’t anything redeemable about the duo of Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner right now. During the first half, I thought the Lions were run blocking well, as Washington was typically two or three yards beyond the line of scrimmage before he was first touched, yet he, nor Zenner, could muster anything positive in the running game.

The Zenner fumble was monumental and inexcusable, as Detroit only had two more red zone opportunities the rest of the game. I’m trying to find a silver lining in the performance of these two backs, and I’ve got nothing. Hence the F.

Wide receivers: B+

The Lions receivers went up against an excellent Giants’ secondary—although Janoris Jenkins’ early injury helped—and for the most part, they played well. Golden Tate was a monster, beating the Giants cornerbacks several times deep, while Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin had modest, but efficient days.

Tight ends: D+

This was supposed to be a joyous homecoming for Eric Ebron. For a minute, it looked like that was going to be the case, as Ebron saw the second most targets on the team. However, Ebron had a bad drop on a key third down and ended up just catching four passes for 36 yards. 2016 was hailed as Ebron’s breakout season, and with Theo Riddick missing the past two games, expectations were high for Ebron to step up. That just hasn’t happened.

Offensive line: D-

Now that the Lions are playing some pretty serious defensive lines, the softness of their front five is finally starting to reveal itself. Taylor Decker is going through the rookie troubles we expected him to have at some point and the play from Detroit’s guards is just atrocious right now. Larry Warford has struggled over the past few weeks, and the Lions can’t afford to have Laken Tomlinson in the game during the final two games of the season.

Stafford was only sacked once on the day, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. He was constantly running from the pocket, forced to throw balls from awkward angles or make plays with his feet. The running game in the second half completely shut down due to no running lanes. The offensive line simply needs to be better.

Defensive line: C-

Ezekiel Ansah got his first sack of the year. Anthony Zettel got the first of his career. But beyond that, it was a pretty quiet day from the defensive line. Eli Manning had a pretty comfortable day in the pocket, while the Giants racked up 114 rushing yards on the day, their third highest total of the season. The defensive line wasn’t egregiously bad in their play, but aside from the two sacks, they didn’t really make their presence felt.

Linebackers: B

Tahir Whitehead may have had his best career game as a Lion on Sunday. His 12 tackles easily led the team and according to Pro Football Focus he had six “stops” and didn’t allow a reception over four yards.

DeAndre Levy posted eight tackles of his own, but his play was a little more up and down. At times, Levy looked like his former self, but too often I saw him out of position or fooled by play-action or screens. That’s unlike Levy, though I think he’s probably still shaking off the rust. The fact that he saw the field more against the Giants is a promising sign in and of itself.

Secondary: D-

When your top cornerback goes out early in the game, it’s hard for any team to keep its head above water. Losing Darius Slay for this defense was huge, especially when Detroit was forced to rely heavily on the unproven Asa Jackson. Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t quite go off against the Lions secondary, but he came up with a few huge receptions in the fourth quarter, and that’s what put the game out of reach for good. They tried Johnson Bademosi, they tried Jackson, and even a little Nevin Lawson. Nothing worked, and Manning left the game having completed 71.4 percent of his passes for a 115.3 passer rating.

Special teams: B

The Lions got a rare blocked punt from Brandon Copeland and Matt Prater was perfect again. However, Sam Martin had a rough game and the Giants nearly had punt return touchdown, but it was called back due to a block in the back penalty.

Andre Roberts didn’t do anything in the return game again. However, when it comes down to it, the Lions got a big play on special teams and didn’t allow one. That’s a net positive.

Coaching: D

Jim Caldwell caught a whole bunch of grief for his decisions on Sunday, but not really for the right reasons. I completely understand not challenging the absolutely awful “complete” pass to Beckham on the first drive of the game. Though it was an easy win, teams are only given, at most, three challenges for an entire game. Detroit didn’t end up needing any other challenges, but with just one minute off the clock in the game, they didn’t know that. It’s not worth mortgaging your future for four measly yards. That decision had very little bearing on the overall outcome of this game, even if the Giants ended up scoring a touchdown on the drive.

You may have a better case for Caldwell’s decision to punt at the end of the first half from the Giants’ 40 yard line on fourth-and-6, or punting down two score with 5:20 left in the game. Both of those choices were definitely on the conservative end of the spectrum. Annoying, but not back-breaking, in my opinion.

Rather, I thought the game plan for this contest was awful. Defensively, the Lions were in a tough situation without Slay, but couldn’t find any combination of players that worked. Of course, this goes back to their odd decision to waive Adairius Barnes, which clearly turned out to be a significant mistake from Bob Quinn.

Offensively, this is a game that Jim Bob Cooter is rightfully getting a lot of heat for. We saw the Giants exploit the Lions’ secondary when Slay went down, but the Lions hardly challenged the Giants cornerbacks once Janoris Jenkins left the game with an injury. Instead, we were treated to more inefficient runs and more poorly designed wide receiver screens on third-and-long.